Famed for its rich cuisine, significantly different from other part of Vietnam, Hanoi delivers foodies a unique indulging experience. Different from the South of Vietnam where sweet and sour flavors are preferred, from the Central where the spicy taste reigns, Hanoi offers me a milder taste, which I personally loved because too much seasonings could cause you serious heart and blood pressure diseases.
But the cuisine is not plain, you can always add some chili pepper, fish sauce, shrimp sauce to the dish. Indulging Hanoi’s food is like falling in love, it takes you a careful chewing, a delicate tasting. It takes time to love a dish, just like it takes time to fall for someone. It’s unlike some Saigon or Hue’s food, which you can love it at first bite. But Hanoian food is a long-term relationship which has kept me coming back even in my 6th visits to the capital city.
Both savory and refreshments kind of food, this list below is a compact love I would like to dedicate to Hanoi cuisine.
“Bánh Rán” (Fried Sweet Dumpling)
Either you find these on a local vendor’s basket or in a food stall by the street, you’ll love it. It’s a bit oily, but after one minute outside of the frying pan, it becomes crispy. They will put mostly smashed green beans inside for a sweet treat.
My favorite place to have these “Bánh Rán” is at the intersection of Nhà Chung Road and Tràng Thi Road, where you can see the vendors cook newly from the pan. You must be surprised since there’s no address for this. Because I don’t know either. Get used to it, since street food is where the best local food can be.
The taste of “Bún Ngan” is the taste of moderation. It doesn’t have any extreme elements like spicy our overly salty. This is the reason I fell in love with the dish. The hot soup is infused with duck meat, seasonal vegetables, and bamboo roots.
Trần Nhân Tôn Road is where my Hanoi friend took me in my first time in the beautiful city. I fell in love with it. There are a lot of vendors selling this soup, and the good thing is that they don’t overcharge even when you’re not Hanoian.
“Cà phê Sữa chua Nếp cẩm” (Coffee infused Purple Sticky Rice and Yogurt)
Cộng Cafe is a very trendy coffee chain in Hanoi (now expanding even to Danang). Besides the very interesting Communist themed decoration, their drinks and refreshments are highly recommended. I tried Imperial Tea and their traditional coffee and I loved them. But this refreshment is what I like the most.
Sour and sweet taste from the yogurt, the sticky rice offers also sourness while adding fat to the combination, then the freshly brewed coffee gives you the bitter that complete this glass. What I like more is the decoration which has 3 layers, which make you eat like a real gourmet eater.
This one place has an address, I’ve been to some Cộng Cafe but my favorite is on Tràng Tiền Road
“Kem Tràng Tiền” (Trang Tien Ice-cream)
Talking about Tràng Tiền Road, after the tasteful coffee, go get yourself a “Tràng Tiền Ice-cream.” The taste is not really special when they offer you cones with either vanilla or chocolate. But it’s feel good for me to eat something belongs to that place.
Just go to Tràng Tiền Road, there are many ice-cream shop with green labels, you can get one cone easily.
“Bún Ốc” (Snail Rice Noodles)
I love this sour and sea tasted dish. It has snails, fried tofu, rice noodles and a lot of vegetable. The tomato gives this hot served soup a mild sour taste, while the snails give me a fresh sea indulgence (technically they’re not snails from the sea but still)
You can find this dish around the Old Quarter, it’s like a basic soup in every food stalls.
“Phở Cuốn” (Rolled Pho)
At one glance, this so-called Phở Cuốn has nothing in common with the well-known Phở, which is served hot and steamy. The similarity is that the white flour wrapping was made from the same noodles used in making Phở. This dish is sophisticated as it shows the Vietnamese way of eating “wrap and roll.” But you can have the vendors wrap it for you. All you have to do is pick on and dip it into fish sauce then savor it.
Located at the end of Ngũ Xã Road, there are many local food shops selling this delicate and beautifully hand rolled dish.
“Sữa Chua Dẻo” (Cubed Yogurt with Cubed Fruits)
Nothing like a freezing yogurt with fruits. My favorite combination is with watermelon. It really cool you down in a hot summer day of June.
Check out the coffee shop on 37 Nguyễn Hữu Huân Road, Hoàn Kiếm District, where I frequent anytime I go to Hanoi.
“Nem Rán” (Fried Roll)
The roll is made from pork, if you’re Muslim, better stay away. This roll has nothing special but the way they eat it with sour mango and chili sauce is amazingly delicious. The combination spices up the taste of the roll and even eating fruit with savory meat is not a bad idea.
Ngõ Tạm Thương, Hoàn Kiếm District ,a small alleyway on Hàng Bông Road is the place to be for this food.
“Bún Hải Sản” (Seafood Noodles)
This invention combines the goodness of seafood, veggie, sour taste and big rice noodles. It is very ideal to indulge in a cold night in Hanoi. This dish is trendy for months before I went there last year, but it’s still now. Soon it will become a specialty.
Go back to where I had “Phở Cuốn” on Ngũ Xã Road, this shop is just opposite. Two good food for one night is not too much. Your stomach fully deserves it.
“Xôi Yến” (Yen Sticky Rice)
You might think you’re being ripped off when the bill is around 65,000 VND or 3 USD/dish for a sticky rice. But it is in fact worthwhile since you can choose the topping with fried egg, fried roll, mushroom, chicken and a lot of other topping on the either traditional white sticky rice, or smashed green bean sticky rice (my top choice,) or corn sticky rice. I loved “Xôi Yến” so much whenever I’m hungry because the portion is enormous.
39 Nguyễn Hữu Huân, Hoàn Kiếm District is the place you will love to dig this food in. They are pro in selling sticky rice, all orderings are made via a tablet.
“Bún Chả” (Dipped Meat with Rice Noodles)
Grilled pork and bacon dipped in light fish sauce, you have to put the rice noodles and the vegetable into the bowl to eat. This dish is iconic, a must have in Hanoi.
I had it in Saigon, in Prague (weird), but no where tastes better than the shop on 1, Hàng Mành, Hoàn Kiếm District.
“Cà phê trứng” (Egg Coffee)
It is surprising to choose this refreshment as my most favorite food in Hanoi. Technically, Egg Coffee is not a food but I’m usually full after having it makes me wanted to put it here onto the list. The coffee is at the cup’s bottom while the rich and creamy shaken egg tops the surface. This cup of fineness needs to be stirred gently to infuse the sweet and fat egg part with the bitter coffee. But hold your horses! Sip the egg layer first, it’s heaven comes to life.
I have this “food” at the same place I have the Cubed Yogurt. Again, two good refreshments for one morning is not a bad idea, my stomach truly deserves it.
Notable mentions: Bún Đậu Mắm Tôm (Fried Tofu, Shrimp Sauce, with Thin Rice Noodles), Bún Than (Hot served dish similar to “Bún Ngan” with different toppings), Pork Skewers.
It is too long to list them all, but Hanoi is one fine place to indulge yourself, unless you’re on special diet.